Book Review: Kana the Stray

The fate of a world that is not her home rests upon the shoulders of Kana Kobayashi, the last human.

Kana the Stray by CC Luckey is a fantasy and science fiction novel following Kana Kobayashi as she tries to navigate her way through a world dominated by talking animals known as the Kingdom in order to find her way home. On her journey she transforms from a snarky, aimless young woman who’s given up hope to an inspirational leader with everything to lose from the dwellers of the mysterious Badlands—but will she bring on her own downfall?

Kana Kobayashi is a nobody. A vagabond, homeless, unwanted, living on the streets of Chicago with the cold of winter afoot. Fleeing a suffocating and emotionally abusive family, she takes her chances and follows the only route left open to her: taking experimental drugs for a pharmaceutical company for food money.

When she goes for her next dose, the whole world changes. Literally. Now in a world where animals talk and humans are extinct, she must discover where humanity went wrong, and how to get back to her own world—and if she even wants to.

CC Luckey’s Kana the Stray is like Brian Jacques meets Isaac Asimov, in a novel where animals show more humanity than humans… and that’s not always a good thing.

Audience
When you mix fantasy and science fiction, there’s this wobbly existence where booksellers, agents, and publishers just don’t know where to put you. That’s because people love to be able to categorize, label, and otherwise put things in boxes. We have container stores after all—we do love our boxes.

That makes the finer points of ‘audience’ for Kana the Stray a little difficult. It has significant elements of sword and sorcery, complete with epic battles, betrayals, and royalty. And yet there is also a very important science fiction element to the story as well (which I will not spoil, so you’ll get nothing more out of me!) You can make an argument for speculative fiction of course, but even that label goes in and out of use.

Personally I love when the fantasy and science fiction elements become so intertwined they’re like a finely knitted sweater. You can see the patterns, but unless you look really close, the individual stitches run together. That’s how well Kana works. Suffice to say, no elements of the story (fantasy, science fiction or otherwise), stand out as unnatural or as not well integrated.

What I Liked
I think what struck me first and foremost about Kana is that the prose was flawless. Detailed, but unhindered. Emotional, but not dawdling. The pacing was spot on throughout the book, setting the tension and giving me chances to breathe before heart-thumping action scenes. It was at a level that I don’t usually see even in a lot of traditionally published books, let alone indie books (Not to say that indie books are inherently lesser, only that indie authors don’t often have the funds to hire multiple editors for each of their books to really polish the prose.)

I also loved how much the characters grew throughout the story. If I’m honest, I struggled with Kana as a character in the beginning. I disliked her personality, so if on your initial read you have the same reaction as me take heart. Luckey has a knack for showing character growth, not just of her main character but of much of the main cast (which is quite the ensemble of personalities in and of itself.) I loved how Kana grew into her role as an ambassador, how she still kept her snark and distrust of authority while also acquiescing to the needs of her role when it really mattered. Most importantly, I loved how she learned how to form bonds and relationships with others, having not experienced a healthy family life or any real friendships as an adult.

One of the other enjoyable qualities of this book is more about the experience itself. I’m someone with chronic pain who suffers with constant physical issues that make even the seemingly low-stress activity of reading difficult at times. Yet, this book had me so engrossed that I ignored all of my normal physical warning signs and read myself near into a flare up because I didn’t register the pain through my excitement.

For me that is a hallmark of a good fiction book: one that can let you forget your lot on Earth just for a little while, and become invested in the lives or the characters in the story, so much so that all your worries and stressors fall away into nothing.

Although Kana certainly had stressors of her own. Part of what made this book so engrossing is that when it hit its stride, it was incredibly exciting. It is an action-packed sci-fi with the added mystery of how Kana ends up in the Kingdoms in the first place. The twists and turns had me guessing, while the battles, the betrayals, different forces coming in and out of play and the emotional growth of the main characters all happen in fluid motions, a well-oiled machine of a book that honestly caught me by surprise.

I thought I had an idea of what Kana the Stray would be like, what it would be about; and while the book I thought I was going to have read would have been good, it would have been done before. Kana is original, strange, and unapologetic.

Trigger Warnings
Graphic Violence

Author Interview: C.C. Luckey

I collect quirky authors like some people collect seashells.

Cory Doctorow. TJ Klune. Erin Morgenstern. Robin Sloan. Jenny Lawson. Those are the New York Times Bestselling big names of course, but there are many indie authors I count amongst them.

They’re like beach finds to me, from hours combing the sandy shores of bookstores, online book reviews, social media, and word of mouth. When I find an author I like, I follow their work, often reading outside my comfort genres, just to get another taste of their prose and stories.

When I read Kana the Stray, I had the feeling I was uncovering more than just a moment, but something that would alter the landscape of my reading journey for more than just one book. Like finding an intact conch shell—a beachcombers dream. In other words, C.C. Luckey, whether you like it or not: you’ve been added to my collection.

So needless to say, I felt quite lucky (sorry, couldn’t help it, it’s just the one I swear) that I got the chance to interview Luckey to talk about their writing journey and their future stories.

(And if you haven’t yet, you can read my review for Kana the Stray here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live near the ocean in Long Beach, California, and I have a few different hobbies. I play accordion in a rock band, go hiking one or two days a week, and collect oddities. But my true passion is writing, and my books mean everything to me.

Tell us about your novel.
Kana the Stray is a story about a young woman who lives on the streets of Chicago, but is pulled into another world populated entirely by talking animals. To survive, she must quickly learn about politics, become self-sufficient, and endure living in the wild without help—all skills which are new to her. The book is a new twist on animal fantasy for adults, with a hefty dose of science fiction and epic adventure thrown in.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?
My favorite book is a fairly obscure novel called The Book of the Dun Cow. It was written in the late 1970s by a pastor named Walter Wangerin Jr., and borrows some characters and ideas from Chaucer’s fable of Chaunticleer. It is technically biblical fiction, which is not normally an interest of mine, but when I read Dun Cow it just spoke to me. The story follows a rooster who leads his flock in a horrific war against an ultimate evil which lives inside the earth, and along with its sequel, The Book of Sorrows, it’s the most beautifully sad story I have ever read. Wangerin’s tale was definitely an inspiration for Kana the Stray.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers will get from your book?
I write primarily to entertain, but there are a few other important ideas in Kana, such as accepting one’s true self and persevering in the face of unfamiliar challenges. In a way, it is also an environmental disaster precautionary tale. But the most important theme, other than the pure joy of exploring a new world, is that family can be chosen. Family is whoever is most important to you, whether they are related to you or not. And a chosen family will always bring you happiness, even in the most difficult times.

What is different about your novel?
I’ve been told I write in a more classical style, ignoring current trends and tropes. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad from most readers’ perspectives, but it’s what I enjoy. All four of my books encompass realistic “low” fantasy supported by science fiction ideas while focusing on complex and relatable characters, who are often somewhat damaged. Kana is flawed. She doesn’t always make the right decisions. Her friends are flawed, too. But all that matters in the end is the bond they form with each other, and doing the best they can in a dangerous world.

What are your plans for future novels?
I am currently working on my first series! I have three historic fantasy books planned for release in late 2021 and early 2022. The series is about a late Victorian circus traveling across the United States, and has a divination theme, including both tarot and astrology.

What inspires you to write?
I’ve always been greedy with my life. I’ve never quite been comfortable with the fact that I get only one. There is so much in the world to enjoy, to explore. As long as I keep writing, I can live a hundred lives, have a thousand adventures, and—hopefully—bring some other people along with me.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?
I enjoy nearly everything about publishing, from developing loose story concepts to screening the final edits. I think the hardest part is getting feedback from people. Even readers who really love your story often forget to tell you!

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?
Much of my work doesn’t fit well into currently popular genres. I tend to hold story and originality over market demands, which makes it harder to reach people who I know would love my work if they found out about it. The feedback I have received from my readers has been incredibly positive, so I know my work has merit. What matters most for me, and for all other writers, is to just keep writing. Keep setting new books free into the world, and never quit.

How can we purchase your book?
Paperback and eBook versions of all my books can be found on Amazon. My eBooks are also available on Kobo and many other similar sites, and my paperbacks are also available on bookshop.org. My website is www.ccluckey.com, where you can find links to my Amazon listings and a contact form to email me directly or sign up for my newsletter.